5 steps to build robust Mobile Application Security framework

With mobile apps becoming an important element in business strategy, mobile application security has started assuming an increasing importance. However, application security flaws only come with disastrous consequences as best illustrated by Amazon’s Ring Neighbour App incident.

A bug began retrieving sensitive data – like latitude and longitude – from Ring’s app, exposing precise details about users. Going unrealized, the bug had been stealthily screening Ring’s server causing data leakage. Hackers began hurling racial slurs and death threats to user, infuriated at which, the latter resorted to legal action against the tech firm. Severe criticism from civil rights groups and regulatory authorities marred Ring’s reputation, taking a heavy toll on its business.

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While that was just an example, each year many enterprises suffer heavy financial losses due to their weakly secured mobile apps. Analysis by CVE Details for the last decade has exposed 2500+ vulnerabilities and 1600+ vulnerabilities in Android and iOS devices respectively. Advancing mobile apps thus makes sense only when they are coupled with a parallel application security vision.

Giving way to IP thefts, reverse engineering, jailbreaks, and unauthorized user authentications, inadequately secured mobile applications leave customer data and the application framework vulnerable, inviting a host of security breaches.

To ensure a securely functioning mobile application, you thus require the knowledge of the right steps. While successful mobile application security framework might involve performing multiple steps, here we are going to discuss 5 important steps in mobile application security.

What are the 5 important steps in Mobile Application Security?

A systematic workflow of essential steps only helps to build a perfect mobile application security framework. Here we will go into the details of 5 essential steps that must be executed.

Authorize application access

As the first basic step, authorizing application access creates necessary accessibility prerequisites. A practical approach to authorizing an application starts with using two-factor authentication. Here, the first step is asking the user to enter ID and password, and the second step is validating the login through OTP sent to the mobile phone. Biometric authentication using fingerprint-based access may also make the second stage as required by the application.

One-time password (OTP)-based authentication creates a user in AWS Cognito and sends the user a unique 6 digit number for authenticating access to the application. As passwords are easy to hack, OTPs are the first line of defense against potential unauthorized access.

As a part of password creation, have a strict password policy, with rules framed for password length, password topologies, and password topology. Complex, alphanumeric passwords offer better security. Have an expiry time for passwords, so that users are prompted to modify their passwords at regular intervals.

Password strength must be analyzed using password testing best practices, which helps understand the implementation of password policy. Ascertain from time to time if password functionalities defined in the source code are functioning rightly. Finally, review password verification to ensure that passwords don’t violate the predefined password rules.

Protect sensitive data

To lay a successful foundation for protecting application data, the application network must be authenticated, which is a key to verifying the data accessor’s identity. Standard Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocols play a major role in offering this authentication. This is a primary step to safeguarding sensitive user data from the prying eyes of fraudsters and hackers. However, as much as 50% of the mobile APIs are not authenticated on the tokens. Hence there is the need for strong measures to protect the data.

To ensure that data managed by applications is secure across the entire application-data interaction lifecycle, implementing Amazon EFS (Elastic File System) along with IAM (Identity and Access Management) is a viable solution. EFS assesses IAM policies and encrypts the data, providing only relevant users access to the data.

Building a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) protects data by treating the application ecosystem as a private network in the cloud environment. Logically isolated, VPCs keep application data secure by limiting access to resources. Using dedicated security protocols, it guards the data traffic.

Platforms like Amazon Cognito come with a dynamic authentication mechanism that provides data access to users through limited-privilege credentials. Having short life, these credentials leave no scope for unauthorized access and thereby prevent attempts to tamper with data.

Obfuscate the code

Code obfuscation conceals source code and deters all potential attempts to hack it by making the code useless for unauthorized access. The code is altered, but it performs the same functionality as performed by the original source code. Involving modification of app’s binary, code obfuscation hides function and class names and prevents reverse engineering of the proprietary app.

As a process, code obfuscation is executed using a series of mechanisms that make the code unintelligible. Here are some of those code obfuscation mechanisms:

  • Rename obfuscation: Intentionally, variables are assigned confusing names, so that their real role in the code is not made easily visible. This method is common with application codes developed using Java, .Net, and iOS and Android platforms.
  • Data obfuscation: Specially used to obfuscate data structures in the code, it helps keep hackers from reaching the core functionality of the code. It alters the data storage pattern and data interpretation for display features.
  • Dummy Code: Codes are inserted to create an impression that they perform some different functionality; however, the logic remains the same. It is a robust mechanism to prevent hackers from reverse-engineering the code.
  • Address obfuscation: It transforms code for each execution and randomizes the code’s virtual address, thereby preventing unchecked access to memory arrays.

Secure third-party API key

Third-party APIs are linked to multiple applications, and if the APIs fall prey to cyberattacks, it takes a toll on the applications. Functional third-party API security comprehensively safeguards the integrity of APIs. As an umbrella framework, API security encompasses right from API access control, threat detection and prevention of API reverse engineering.

The foremost action to secure third-party API keys is to drive API testing. Based on the type of API – SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), REST (Representational State Transfer) etc. – appropriate testing mechanism can be leveraged. For instance, Static Application Security Testing (SAST) helps identify vulnerabilities to API security during the early development stages.

Remember that each third-party API key is a secret and securing it is a critical step to ensure before the app goes into production. Here is how you can keep third-party API keys safe:

– Ensure secrecy by keeping the keys on the cloud; pull them when needed, by requesting the application.

– Add the keys in libraries so that they are difficult to decompile. Splitting key strings into different components and storing the individual components across different locations offers greater security.

– Use an obfuscator to put the key code as hashed secret. Later, unhash it, as required

Guard the communication framework

Applications interact extensively with external environments, and a weak communication framework creates opportunities for hackers to sneak in. As such, the regular communication for data exchange between the device and servers through applications must be protected.

Authenticating the interaction between apps and web platforms starts with Transport Layer Security (TLS). As a basic step, it helps protect access credentials.

Since REST is the communication facilitator in most cases, it must be configured to secure the communication between apps and web services. In this case, the platform automatically generates REST endpoints for secured server actions. Endpoint security works in two ways. First, the accesses are encrypted, and second, the server-side access control regulates the accesses. This works as a complex process that completely protects end-to-end communication.

Technical mechanisms like Open Authorization protocols – OAuth Core 1.0, OAuth 2.0 – streamline the process to securely manage the communication. These protocols give applications the ability to access protected resources from web services. Offering strong cryptographic features, OAuth 1.0 supports digital signatures and comes in handy when developing apps for banking or public services. OAuth 2.0 provides restrictive access, by offering access only to a set of resources and keeping an expiration date for every access token, which heightens the communication security.

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The above steps that we discussed with you are essentials to successfully deploy and manage a functional mobile application security framework. Systematically executing these steps creates a self-defending layer that holistically secures mobile apps.

Mobile application development services complete half the story, as securing it makes the rest. If you are looking to make your mobile apps more secure, these steps will definitely help you.

You can also seek Indium’s assistance to build a long-term mobile application security strategy.

We keep adopting the best standards and continually evolve our risk mitigation framework to effectively counter cyber threats. Get a detailed insight by knowing our Application Engineering services.